Travel Destination Happiness: Which Places Point the Way to a Happy Planet?

Traveling is key to happiness. Do you know the effect of vacations on happiness? It turns out that people get the most happiness from planning and anticipating their vacations.

Why do we travel?  Are we trying to find a better path forward forourselves and our children?  There are many ways to pursue happiness,and close encounters with new cultures often lead us to reconsider whathappiness means.  When we hear fellow travelers asking, “What is thebest way to live?” and “Where does this path lead?” their answers oftenswing between the material and the spiritual.  How do we balance thetwo?

The reason being that people “adapt” to physical objects – meaningthe things you’ve bought will bring decreasing amounts of happiness astime goes on and you get used to having them around – whereas thoseone-off experiences will be looked back upon with joy that onlyincreases.

So, spending loads of money on a fancy car, or a watch, or a dress, or a phone, or even a house, is not going to bring youeverlasting happiness. You’ll just become used to those things. ThatiPad you bought will be amazing when you pull it out of the box, andthen boring after it’s been played with it for a few weeks, and by thetime three or four months have passed you’ll be complaining about what a pile of crap it is and looking at ways of upgrading.

Except for the most relaxing of vacations, people aren’t happier when they return from a trip than when they left. Even at the most extremeend of relaxation, the happiness effect wears off after two weeks.
Taking more trips and planning and talking (obsessing?) about them, then, may be the keys to happiness.
I guess that must make travel agents the happiest people on earth! Indeed, perhaps I’m one of the happiest as well.

Now there’s an interesting new perspective emanating from respectedeconomists that weighs factors such as health, a positive experience oflife and the natural resource requirements to attain them. The New Economics Foundation devised this measure for 143 countries around the world (covering 99%of the population).  The results, displayed online via an interactive map of the world, show that less wealthy countries with significantly smaller ecologicalfootprints have high levels of life expectancy and satisfaction.  Infact, nine of the top ten countries are in Latin America or theCaribbean (see our chart of the top twenty).  The 64-page downloadablereport describes the methodology and shows index scores in full.

Where does the U.S.come in?  At 114th sandwiched betweenMadagascar and Nigeria.  The planet’s richest nation is dragged down byits voracious and unsustainable appetite for natural resources. According to the HPI data, if all the peoples of the world wereAmerican, it would take more than four planets to support them.

A world traveler’s perspective and habits may dovetail with thevalues on which the HPI is based.  You can calculate your personal HPI using an online questionnaire.  I answered the series of questions fairly honestly and scored a66.8-that’s about halfway between the world average of 46 and the target score of 83. The results are accompanied by tips for improving yourperformance. Maybe I’ll start by moving to Costa Rica.

Of course, it may take generations for the human species to arrive at the destination known as a Happy Planet.  For the immediate future, Itake comfort that simply pursuing happiness is often enough.  Toparaphrase Robert Louis Stevenson, “It is sometimes better to travelhopefully than to arrive.”

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